Emily Graves spoke with Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship

Dr Peter Saunders
Dr Peter Saunders

The Christian Medical Fellowship has said that the failure of the Crown Prosecution Service to take action in cases of sex selection abortions and pre-signing of abortion forms raises serious questions about its role in upholding the law.

The CPS has opted to take no further action in regard to two named doctors who sought to authorise abortions on grounds of sex selection in 2012. In a letter to Christian Medical Fellowship the Metropolitan Police have said that, although there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction, the CPS say it is not in the public interest to prosecute.

With regard to doctors at 14 NHS Trusts who pre-signed abortion forms authorising abortions for women they had not actually seen, the CPS has also opted not to act on grounds that 'the practice of pre-signing has clearly evolved over a number of years', is 'clearly widespread' and may well be due to 'clinical pressures' or 'good intention'.

To discuss these issues Emily Graves spoke with Dr Peter Saunders, CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship.

Emily: Please could you give us a general picture of what your position on abortion is at the Christian Medical Fellowship?

Dr Peter Saunders: We're opposed to abortion, because we believe that all human life is made in the image of God and incredibly precious. The whole Christian ethic is that the strong make sacrifices for the weak - that's what Jesus did for us - and there's nothing more vulnerable and more innocent and weaker than the baby in the womb. We believe that that baby deserves legal protection and that to take the life of an innocent human being is wrong. So that's where the position is based.

Emily: Tell us a little bit about the cases of sex-selection abortions that have taken place in the UK.

Dr Peter Saunders: Well, the Daily Telegraph, a couple of years ago, sent some of their undercover reporters to a number of abortion clinics to ask for abortions purely on grounds of the baby being the wrong sex and two doctors were secretly filmed authorising abortions on those grounds, when in fact the Health Minister has been very clear that that's against the law. That led to a police investigation and a report by the Crown Prosecution Service, which has stirred up all the controversy.

Emily: There has been a rise, then, in cases of this description?

Dr Peter Saunders: Well, there hasn't been clear evidence of sex-selection abortions happening with any great frequency in Britain. But abroad, particularly in South Asia - in India and in China - there have been a large number of sex-selection abortions. In fact there are 160 million missing females in those two countries as a result. And because there are Asian populations here who favour boys, there's been a concern that there've been undercover sex-selection abortions. The Telegraph sting was aimed at identifying doctors who, presented with a case scenario, would actually go ahead and authorise these abortions. Of course the people going were undercover reporters and so no abortions were performed in these two situations, but it was still against the law and the Crown Prosecution Service said that there was enough evidence to prosecute these doctors, but they felt it wasn't in the public interest to do it and that's what's caused all the uproar and controversy.

Emily: We will talk a little more about that in a second, but what about these cases is particularly worrying, apart from the reaction from the Crown Prosecution Service?

Dr Peter Saunders: There's a range of opinion on abortion in Britain as you would expect, from the pro-choice to pro-life end - but abortions done purely on grounds of sex seem to unite everyone right across the political spectrum and across the pro-choice/pro-life spectrum. What's been striking about this is that a lot of the criticism has come from pro-choice feminists, who are nonetheless strongly opposed to sex-selection abortion because they believe in this case, that it discriminates against women and undermines all the work they've been doing on trying to curb human trafficking and sex abuse. So the Director of Public Prosecutions has attracted the wrath of all sides because everyone, with a few exceptions, seems to be of the view that, even if abortion is acceptable in some circumstances, that it's most definitely not on grounds of sex-selection alone.

Emily: So what does pre-signing abortion forms actually entail?

Dr Peter Saunders: This is another problem and this was again identified as a result of a survey by the Care Quality Commission that was carried out in response to an article in the Telegraph. They found that in 14 NHS Trusts doctors had pre-signed forms. Now what this means is that under the Abortion Act, you can't have an abortion unless two doctors sign a special statutory form to say that the conditions laid down in the Abortion Act apply. What had happened in these 14 trusts was that doctors had gone through and pre-signed a whole load of forms without seeing the women concerned, so in other words it was left to just one doctor to authorise the abortion rather than two. That is a form of perjury: it's knowingly and wilfully putting your signature to a statutory document to say things that you know aren't actually true. I think there will be more controversy on this as to why the Director of Public Prosecutions didn't prosecute in the case of these NHS Trusts. He argued that this is a widespread practice; well you know, speeding is a widespread practice, but we still prosecute people who speed. It just seemed a ridiculous argument. If the law is there and it's the will of Parliament, then it is the Crown Prosecution Service's job to uphold the law; not to interpret it and let people off just because a lot of people are breaking it. The problem with the Abortion Act is that there has been pretty widespread, if not flagrant, abuse of the provisions of the Act in a whole host of areas, of which pre-signing is one.

Emily: So you've got two different things here: you've got the pre-signing forms and you've got the doctors allowing these sex-selection abortions to take place?